Worlde Arcane

Worlde Arcane: Aniada: Ehtomer Mountain Range: Ehtome-Naom: ToCha'r - The Dwarfen Writing System

ToCha'r: The Dwarfen Writing System
A Presentation to the Uwengaerion
by Thuvitir Faine-Houlse
Date: Half-23-4, D.E. Jurill 29816 (Bright)

[ Every seat in the galleries is filled this evening, for the elfin Emperor himself is in attendance. After a brief introduction by the Minister of Protocol, the first presenter, Thuvitir Faine-Houlse, rises from the low southern gallery, takes the Speaker's Orb from the Min-Pro, mounts the Speaker's Dais in front of the Whitewall, and begins his speech. ]

Yer Imperial Highest Majesty, Our Great Illumination! Most Esteemed First Minister, friends and fellows and ministers of the Uwen White Order, and most noble guests, my greetings and gratitudes. I am Thuvitir Faine-Houlse of House Houlsetto. I have recently returned from a most extensive, and at times rather horrible, trek into the Dragon's Peak mountain range and the depths of Ehtome-Naom, the so-called Dwarfen "Home of Creation." During the greater part of my journey, I was forced to suffer under a disguise of thick jaw, rough beard, extense of nose, and greatly irritating compression of height -- a masterful illuse bestowed upon me by our lauded sister Teymora Depholor Yandaril, whom I am most gratified to see in our high-center gallery here tonight (hail, T-Deph; yer magicks have brought me safely home!). My journey, requisited by order of the late Overgeneral Trohalimind, was to retrieve certain specific informations concerning the language used by those revolting hammer-wielders. I am greatly sorrowful to report that my partner, Queiola Esteron of House Miliria, whose delegated task was the accumulation of vocabulary and the unraveling of the chaotic Dwarfen grammatical structure, has not yet returned to us, and indeed was last known to be traveling southward from the Dragon's Peak itself, well-supplied and well-guarded but under a determined pursuit by a Dwarf patrol of rather grim intent. However, Esteron's disposition not withstanding, I have fulfilled my own portion of the mission, the deciphering of the Dwarfen curl-rune system by which they communicate over distance and store their wretched iron-lores. Tonight I shall present and expound upon the system, and theretofore I beg yer patient indulgence.

Let me begin by excusing that most Dwarves do not write, nor read, nor have any concept of scribben language. Indeed, upon trying to explain to a group of them that a spoken thought can be committed to parch and carried intact to distance, the shortlings laughed outright and came near to collapsing Esteron and me as lunatics.

But we refused discouragement, and forged ahead, and eventually we discovered a den of Dwarf shamen who did indeed practice and preserve the art of writing, and furthermore were in the midst of training a detachment of military runners in the craft -- the very reason I believe our beloved fallen Overgeneral Trohalimind did requisition our endeavor, the better to intercept knowledge of our long-time enemies' actions and intents. This den of dare-I-call-them "holy Dwarves" lay of course underground, in the filthy rock of their mountains, and do allow that I mention how psychically withering it is for any of our noble breed to descend into and dwell within such an environ! But to the point: Esteron and I did attach ourselves for a period of weeks to this clerical cellum, and we extracted much valuable information; indeed, our time there came to satisfy the lion's-share of our mission, and though we did interpolate portions of our data, and did intercut some other data gathered outside the clerics' den, most of what I shall present to yew now is the Dwarfen system of writing as practiced there, in the subwarren of Ehtome-Naom called Tooh-Handa-Ro, which we came to understand means "Fourth Beloved Shrine" (and where the first three might lie, if still extant, none would say). This writing system is known to them as ToCha'r, meaning "Depicted Thought."

Esteron and I were astounded to note that these Dwarves use nibbed quill and parchment, just as our own scribes developed many thousands of years ago! Thence comes the distressing similarity in weighted curve between our own exquisite elfin scripts and ToCha'r; for certainly, the hole-dwellers did steal this technique from us -- a theory borne out by our observations of angular carven runes in some stone walls of the warren that bear no relation to ToCha'r, and certainly pre-date them, for those ridiculous Dwarves cannot even explain what certain of those stone-runes mean or whence they came.

[ Scattered laughter in the galleries. ]

So, the fact that the curls and cursives of their ToCha'r appear to a great degree similar to many of our own elfin systems, either current or arcane, would indicate that the Dwarves' own faculties are so inferior to ours that they must copy from us even such basic skills as writing.

[ Murmured assent and some scattered applause moves in a wave throughout the galleries. ]

However, there the similarity ends. These Dwarves, pathetic confused half-souls that they are, have been unable to discern between those of our systems that use alphabets (single-sound characters) and those that are multiple-sounded in nature (syllables). They have devised a twisted combination of the two, and ToCha'r can be called neither alphabet nor syllabary, for while some portion of their consonant-vowel characters are ligated and thereby cannot be called true alphabetic runes, still the majority of their glyphs are simple combinations of an initial consonant and following vowel, and cannot be called true syllabic runes either. To further reveal the degraded nature of their understanding of writing, I shall present a reconstruction of a two-dimensioned chart, viewed by both my own eyes and those of Esteron, with their various vowel marks along one side and consonant marks along another, with a cross-reference for each ...

[ Confused whispers echo through the galleries. ]

Yes, I understand that such seems only proper ... however, these marginal beings have filled in spots in their chart with syllabics that do not occur in any word or name in their language!

[ Laughter erupts. ]

Yes, thank yew. Now ...

[ He pauses. ]

Now, I must make a warning. I have denigrated the Dwarfen understanding of writing to some degree, and I feel it all justified. However -- and we must take note of this, for knowledge of one's enemy is invaluable! -- a certain insight into language is displayed in one particular aspect: they have used a set of marks for unvoiced sounds in their language; and for those sounds' voiced equivalents, they have used the same symbol, and added a voicing mark.

[ Silence. The presenter frowns. ]

I've moved ahead of myself a bit. Let me explain.

[ The presenter sets the Speaker's Orb gently on the stone floor, turns to the Whitewall behind him, and gestures quickly; large symbols appear on the wall: ]

These are marks for their consonant sounds: M, P, F, T, TH, N, L, R, CH, S, SH, H, NG, K, (please excuse while I make this disgusting sound) KH, and finally W. Now, please note that some sounds we know to exist in their tongue are not present there. Those of yew, such as Our Great Imperial Sire, who have language studies, already have gleaned my point. But please now view these particular curls:

[ He gestures again to change the display. ]

There yew see only their marks for P, F, T, TH, CH, S, SH, K, and (please excuse) KH. These sounds, in any language made by a demiUmanic mouth, are directly equivalent to another set of sounds, differing only in that our vocal cords lie silent for this first set, but become active in this following set:

There yew see the ToCha'r marks for B, V, D, DH, J, Z, ZH, G, and (please excuse) GH. Other than the vocal cords being active or inactive, each sound in the first set is articulated in precisely the same fashion as its corresponding sound in the second set; thence comes our terminology, "voiced" and "unvoiced" -- the Dwarves have used the same symbols for each pair, distinguishing between them with the small mark yew see appended in each voiced glyph.

[ The speaker falls silent for a brief moment. ]

Friends, though our language-masters have known of this correspondence between sounds for millennia, none of our writing systems reflect it. That these ignorant and sorrowful Dwarves have begun to use such a system, in my somewhat-informed opinion, tells us that they have at some time in their past wrought a dark alliance with a power of greater intelligence than themselves, for surely they could not have created this voice-mark method of their own efforts.

However, such matters lie solely in the purview of our Diplom Guild and their Suppendages of Assassins and Spies. As ever, I am certain that their handling of the situation will more than suffice.

[ A relieved murmur of assent from the galleries. ]

So, to continue: as I said earlier, these stone-eaters have developed an odd mix of semi-syllabic glyphs, the first component of which yew have seen, the consonants; now let me show yew their vowel marks.

[ After more gestures to the Whitewall, new symbols appear: ]

Thirteen such marks, one for each vowel sound that occurs in their rough speech: nothing so sophisticated as, for example, our Middle Long-Script, which uses but seven symbols and encompasses all twenty-eight vowels in our Elfin Common Tongue, not to mention the diphthongs! Another blatant proof of the general inferiority of the Dwarves!

[ Applause and scattered hails of cheer. ]

Yes. Now, these marks, which represent the vowels EE in beat, IH in bit, EY in bate, EH in bet, AE in bat, AH in pot, AU in bout, AI in bite, O in boat, OO in foot, U in boot, UH in but, and ER in hurt ... these marks are generally written underneath a consonant, thereby creating a syllable. This consonant-vowel mix forms the backbone of the ToCha'r system. I shall make some examples. Here, say, is MAH, MEE, MU ...

and LAH, LEE, LU ...

A simple enough system of syllabification, but do note the ligation of the vowel symbols to the consonants in LAH and LEE. Such ligature makes difficult the categorization, mentioned previously, of this system as alphabetic or syllabic, for most of the pairs are unligated ... but whether or not a particular vowel-curl attaches to its superconsonant has already been established, albeit exceedingly randomly, in their master chart, from which one may not deviate. And so I present now their entire syllabic chart, which of course I shall retain at my manse for perusal and duplication, should anyone so desire. Here then, penultimately, I present my reconstruction of the chart as I viewed it in Tooh-Handa-Ro:

[ The presenter turns and performs a long series of gestures before the Whitewall, and after some impatience in the galleries, the following details appear: ]

Only two further aspects need be mentioned, and I shall then pass the Orb on to our next presenter.

First, yew might notice in our chart that null-first or null-last consonants are possible, wherein a word will begin with a vowel or end with a double vowel. In such cases, the small hook yew see on the left and right of the consonant row in the chart is used. And indeed, the hook also serves another purpose, for when the Dwarves do string together syllables into a word, the hook begins and ends the string, and each of the consonant-marks inbetween is ligated to its neighbors, so that in effect each word becomes one large contiguous character ... although, I might observe, nearly all of the Dwarf consonants are split through the middle, thus leaving us with written words wherein connected lines might represent two halves of different sounds or syllables! Utterly atrocious of them!

[ Great applause and laughter, during which the presenter smiles. His favorite trick has begun to work: by announcing that he will soon end his speech, the presenter has created for himself an atmosphere of relaxation, in which he revels; the rest of the presentation will be quite well-received. ]

And also, might I note another great failing of their writing system: throughout their language -- at least in the predominant dialect that served Esteron and me throughout our mission, and in those other regional and slang-infested subdialects that we encountered in some itinerant Dwarves -- there occur certain consonant clusters and vowel-glides that cannot be expressed with the syllabary as presented to yew thus far; indeed, their work-around to accommodate this failing of ToCha'r once again in my view betrays the curse of stupidity under which all Dwarves labor.

[ Laughter. ]

Yes. Eh, for the clustered consonant sounds, users of ToCha'r simply string together the appropriate consonants, leaving the undervowel-marks out completely, or in some formal instances using a dot to indicate that the cluster is intentional. Thus, an example, the name of a particularly repulsive fellow I happened to dine with several times in Tooh-Handa-Ro ... and friends, I shall not detail the fare! ...

[ Laughter. ]

... at any rate, this midgling's name was Skerpuin, which, written formally, to display the SK cluster, appears thus in ToCha'r:

And finally, certain vocalic glides in the speech of these Dwarves (that is, brief semi-vowels that occur just before or after a vowel sound) must be indicated in writing, lest they lose their meaning. For example, their words -- and here I shall be very pleased to make these sounds for the last time this evening --

[ Scattered laughter. ]

-- their words SAKHA, SWAKHA, and SYAKHA ... eh, a SAKHA is a shovel; SWAKHA means muddy or messy; and, ah, well, perhaps I shan't translate the word SYAKHA in this fine company, except to say that if one wanted some SYAKHA and one got a SAKHA instead, one would be extremely dissatisfied!

[ Laughter, and some low, good-natured howls from the younger ladies present. ]

At any rate, to indicate an initial vowel-glide of W, Y, or R on a vowel, a sequence of dots is placed before the vowel-symbol: one dot gives a W, two stacked vertically give a Y, and three in a triangle give an R; thus, the W and Y glides in our example:

And a final off-glide is indicated in mirror-fashion. Unsurprisingly, there are ambiguities about using glides or their consonantal equivalents; paradoxically, though they've fossilized their syllabic ligations in the master chart, the Dwarves are alien to the thought of standardizing the scripting of any given word or name.

[ The presenter stoops and lifts the Speaker's Orb. ]

Well, my friends, this is the whole of ToCha'r. In closing let me express my hopes that our very capable leaders in the XIXth Imperial Land Army and the Diplom Guild shall make as good use of this information as my ill-behaved young daughter has made of it in marking her name on the foreheads of all her personal gnome-slaves in our summer residence!

[ Laughter erupts. ]

And finally, let us all remember Queiola Esteron of House Miliria, and cast a pellin or two for his safe return to us!

[ Applause begins, during which the presenter closes his remarks: ]

Thank yew all! Yer Imperial Highest Majesty! First Minister! Friends and fellows, thank yew!

[ Applause continues as the presenter returns the Speaker's Orb to the Minister of Protocol, descends from the Dais, and resumes his seat in the low southern gallery. ]